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Genetics. 2010 Jun;185(2):633-44. doi: 10.1534/genetics.109.112979. Epub 2010 Mar 29.

Searching for recursive causal structures in multivariate quantitative genetics mixed models.

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Department of Animal Sciences, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, MG 30123-970, Brazil.


Biology is characterized by complex interactions between phenotypes, such as recursive and simultaneous relationships between substrates and enzymes in biochemical systems. Structural equation models (SEMs) can be used to study such relationships in multivariate analyses, e.g., with multiple traits in a quantitative genetics context. Nonetheless, the number of different recursive causal structures that can be used for fitting a SEM to multivariate data can be huge, even when only a few traits are considered. In recent applications of SEMs in mixed-model quantitative genetics settings, causal structures were preselected on the basis of prior biological knowledge alone. Therefore, the wide range of possible causal structures has not been properly explored. Alternatively, causal structure spaces can be explored using algorithms that, using data-driven evidence, can search for structures that are compatible with the joint distribution of the variables under study. However, the search cannot be performed directly on the joint distribution of the phenotypes as it is possibly confounded by genetic covariance among traits. In this article we propose to search for recursive causal structures among phenotypes using the inductive causation (IC) algorithm after adjusting the data for genetic effects. A standard multiple-trait model is fitted using Bayesian methods to obtain a posterior covariance matrix of phenotypes conditional to unobservable additive genetic effects, which is then used as input for the IC algorithm. As an illustrative example, the proposed methodology was applied to simulated data related to multiple traits measured on a set of inbred lines.

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